Frozen is, without a doubt, the best thing Disney has done in years. It takes us back to the Disney films we watched as children and sang along with. The soundtrack to Frozen stands out as a work of true genius. Given that Disney has released the Sing-along version of the movie in theaters, it seemed appropriate to take a look at these amazing songs from a more technical perspective rather than just how fun they are to sing along with (we all know that part already). What are my music creds, you ask? What gives me the right to dissect these masterpieces? Well, I don’t know if I have “the right”, but I certainly know my music! I was in band starting in the sixth grade, started learning music theory in the eleventh grade, and studied music in college for five years. Now, without further ado… A Music Scholar’s Take on the Frozen Soundtrack!
I’ve played and studied music for more than half of my life, but I know that not everyone has. I’ll be dealing with these songs on a more technical level, but I’ll try to keep it in terms that you can understand whether you’re writing symphonies or you don’t know the difference between an A natural minor scale and a C Aeolian scale. In case that went over your head and is going to drive you nuts, they’re actually the same thing. Anyway, let’s get to that list!
9. Fixer Upper
Entertainment Weekly published a song by song rating on this soundtrack as well, and in it they ranked this song as the best in the whole movie. It’s definitely a great song; and that’s the problem with a rating list like this: there’s not a bad (or even mediocre) song on the whole soundtrack. “Worst song” sounds too negative, so I’ll go with “least awesome”. “Fixer Upper” is full of humor and charm. It’s got a sort of classic Disney vibe to it, and the switch from “So he’s a bit of a fixer upper” to “So she’s a bit of a fixer upper” once Kristoff reveals that Anna’s engaged to someone else is lyrical genius. Throw in the vague reference to Kristoff getting frisky with Sven (“that’s a little outside of nature’s laws!”), and I’m sold. I guess the reason I list this as my least favorite is that musically it’s a little cliché. It’s got a very classic “musical” sound to it, and that’s not a bad thing; it’s just that the soundtrack is so eclectic that a “traditional” musical number almost seems out of place.
8. Frozen Heart
There could not have been a better opening for the film than this song. It immediately grabbed me and pulled me in with that cool melodic chanting. Anything that stays on one chord with a moving chanting vocal line grabs my attention because it’s done so rarely. This also starts the recurring theme of foreshadowing and metaphors that wind up being literal by the end of the movie. This sequence in the film sets up Sven and Kristoff in the most adorable way possible, and playing this almost dark workers’ chant behind it was a great contrast.
7. For the First Time in Forever (Reprise)
This song caught me by surprise during the movie. It transitions from speech to song seamlessly. At first it seemed a little excessive, but as it continues it becomes more and more interesting. I particularly love the end with Anna’s pleading with her sister and Elsa’s counterpoint. The mix between Anna’s optimistic major-key melody and Elsa’s mournful minor-key melody is perfect. More on that later, though. Elsa’s ascending melody just before she freezes Anna’s heart is a wonderful tension builder; without saying anything or even showing anything, the idea that something bad is about to happen is very clear, and the orchestral crash that comes next pulls the mood, and the song, into a metaphorical darkness. The audience is filled with the same dread as the characters. The dark instrumental segment after Anna is struck reminds me of the final moments of Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd, and this moment is definitely supposed to convey that level of darkness. Disney originally intended for this song to end with Elsa being angry at her sister for suggesting that she hide her powers and unleashing them in anger. The “accidental” angle was definitely the right choice.
6. Let It Go
I had a hard time placing this. The first time I heard it, I thought it was a little cheesy. It wasn’t until I listened again that I realized the genius of this song. It’s full of cliché metaphors, yes, but the genius is that they aren’t metaphors. She actually is the queen, she actually is surrounded by ice, and “conceal, don’t feel” is literally what she has to do to prevent her powers from running rampant (the gloves). The Demi Lovato version is okay, but it’s the original version that stands out because this song is infinitely stronger with the emotion of the story behind it. Idina Menzel has an incredible vocal range and the strength to support this sort of song from top to bottom. I can only assume that the Demi Lovato version was recorded at all in order to promote the soundtrack on a pop stage as well as a soundtrack one. Still, in an instant I’d trade that for the original song intended to be played during the credits, “Reindeers Remix”, but that’s another article.
5. For the First Time in Forever
This song fills the viewer in on all of the sadness that’s surrounded Anna since the incident with her sister, but it does so by joyously proclaiming all of the wonderful things that are about to happen. This is another song with a classic Disney sound to it, almost like an upbeat “Part of Your World”. It also sets up Anna’s optimistic personality as she tells Joan of Arc that things will get better. And to be honest, after all of the tear-jerking that has happened by this point in the film, the audience needs a happy, upbeat song, and this is that and more. Then there’s Elsa’s bridge and what follows. It’s more foreshadowing, and the point/counterpoint that follows is simply musical genius. A song of sadness and a song of hope overlap and build to an amazing harmony over a minor chord which takes the focus of the song, for a brief moment, from Anna to Elsa before giving it back again.
4. Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People
Part of what makes Frozen so endearing is its characters’ quirks. Few, if any, stand out as much as Kristoff’s channeling of Sven’s thoughts and emotions, and this is shown at its best in “Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People”. It’s a duet that’s not a duet. It’s simple, and it’s short. It’s not epic, it’s not lengthy, and it doesn’t really move the plot along, but it shows a tender moment between a man and his reindeer with nothing more than a lute (or a lute-like instrument; we’ve been unable to find one that matches what he’s playing). We get to see how human Sven really is, and we root for them as much as we root for any other couple in the film. I’m just bummed that a) this is the only song that Kristoff gets in the whole film and b) the “Remix” version was left out of the film entirely.
3. In Summer
This is that other quirk I mentioned in the previous description. A snowman who dreams of enjoying summer is a hilarious concept, and this old-time jazz tune telling us about it is simply genius. There’s something about this style of music that fits perfectly with Disney’s image and makes anyone listening want to dance, even if it’s in a movie theater (thank God for the sing-along). Choosing this style was an excellent choice because, paired with these lyrics, it could legitimately have been a song released in the 40s adapted for a modern day Disney movie.
2. Love is An Open Door
The rest of the movie aside, this is incredibly sweet and romantic. It’s got quirky lyrics (“We finish each other’s sandwiches”) and plenty of young-love vibes to go around. Anyone of any age has felt similarly to how Hans and Anna feel, and this song perfectly evokes those feelings. Then there’s that chord change going into the chorus. A lot of these songs have fairly predictable chord changes; if you’ve spent any time listening to music then you can sort of anticipate where the music will take you. This song turns that on its head. That change from a major II chord (it is normally minor) into the V7 (giving it added tension) leading into the chorus allows for some great two-part harmonies and is the perfect springboard for the cascading vocal line of the chorus. This song would be great without this added touch, but that one detail places this song much higher on the list than it might have otherwise been placed. Music is full of tension followed by resolution. This song takes that tension and resolves to even more tension before finally resolving for real.
1. Do You Want to Build a Snowman?
Ah, this song. Really, this was number one from the moment I started making this list. After seeing Frozen for the first time, I was singing this song for days. This song was so good and so catchy that I’d actually managed to learn most of it after hearing it once, and the imagery that goes with it is perfect. We’re introduced to the “Do you want to build a snowman?” phrase almost as soon as the movie starts, and just as quickly the meaning behind it changes. The piano introduction is incredibly upbeat and happy, and Anna’s “shave and a haircut” knocking to the beat makes you want to bob your head. Then it changes. The same line sung by three different versions of Anna fill us with both excitement and sadness. An underlying genius in this is that it suggests that Anna’s memories are still very influential. She doesn’t remember magic, but winter and snow are still very much a part of her life, and she wants to share that with her sister. The music is good, but it’s the lyrics that shine, and the music doesn’t get in the way at all. The musical interlude is action-made-music in its purest form. Listen to the interlude, and your mind will play back the scene almost to the note. No song perfectly conveys the scene in which it takes place better than this one. No other song can make you smile and make you cry.
Now to you, Nerdy Minds. How does your list go, “least favorite” to favorite? And one final question…
Do you want to build a snowman?
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